Milestone: 60 Miles at 60 Years

It’s been seventeen years since I started my business inTampa,Florida. My data processing service has been going strong. The time and effort I put into building the business has paid off and I now have the opportunity to come and go as I please because of good office managers. The work we do is highly technical and it takes a competent staff to maintain the workload. And my group keeps things running smoothly while I take a few days off to head out on a new adventure.

I’m sitting at my desk when the phone rings. It’s Jean, a good friend of mine. She wanted to know if I would like to join her on a sixty-mile walk that would take three days to finish. Whew! I had to think about that one. I’m in good shape, yes, but twenty miles a day is a lot of walking.

Jean told me the event was “The Avon Breast Cancer Walk” and it would be held inMiamiin April. Spring inFloridacan get quite warm. In addition, I would need to raise $2,400.00 from sponsors in order to join this long-distance walk. Hmmm… I wasn’t sure how easy that would be and begged for time to think about it.

On the one hand, I liked the idea of walking for the Cancer Society because I had an experience with cancer myself when I was in my early thirties. It had been cancer of the uterus and required a hysterectomy at the time. I didn’t need the radiation or chemo treatment which was a blessing in itself. 

On the other hand, I rather liked the idea of challenging myself to a 60-mile walk at the age of 60 for a cause I strongly believed in.

I called Jean back the next day and said, “Ok, I’m ready; what do we need to do?”

“Let’s meet up,” she replied, because there was paperwork to fill out and we wanted to discuss our strategy for completing a 60-mile walk in the hotMiamisun. One thing we knew for sure was that we would need to practice walking to develop our skills… and our stamina.

On a three-day walk, it made sense to average around twenty miles a day. At least that was our logic on the matter. That was not what ultimately happened, but that was our intention.

Further, we would need sleeping gear because we would be camping outside and I was rather looking forward to that because it sounded like fun. I had camped only once or twice in my life before so this seemed like an adventure to me – even in theMiamiheat.

We decided to practice walking four times a week, which I knew I could do because I was already walking and working out at least three days a week. I knew the area I lived in well so we figured out our miles and how far to walk each day. We had a couple of months before April, time enough to build our stamina for the long 60-mile walk.

Before we left forMiami, I was on the phone with my clients asking them to sponsor me. Most of them believed in this cause as much as I did so I was able to achieve my $2,400.00 goal. Jean and I also managed to boost our daily walks up to eighteen miles a day.

I had bought good walking shoes at Sports Authority but had not taken the time to break them in yet which, as you know, was a big mistake. All my walking practices had been in old sneakers that were quite comfortable and I should have taken them with me. What is it they say about “hindsight?”

     We finally left on Thursday for the drive toFt.Lauderdaleand Jean’s daughter decided to go with us. The walk started inCoral Gables,Floridathe next morning and I was excited and looking forward to it, so I figured “the more the merrier.” When the three of us arrived at the event, we encountered quite a crowd and a fair number of rules to follow.

The most important rule was to have been registered and to have the sponsorship money in hand. This walk is considered a fundraising event and the money raised helps fund community education and outreach programs. There was some confusion in the very beginning but it got resolved and then the next thing you know we were in a field setting up our sleeping gear. Instructions were given to everyone and after all the details had been taken care of, I finally sat down and looked around.

And saw over a thousand women and even a few men in the huge field where we were camping. The men were there to support their wives and a few husbands chose to complete the walk in honor of wives who had previously succumbed to cancer. I’m sure that was a challenge for those men and when speaking to them you couldn’t miss the tears that formed in their eyes. Cancer can be a very disheartening disease and we all knew what they had been through.

The next morning seemed to arrive awfully quickly; we were up at the crack of dawn and ready to go. After a good healthy breakfast provided to us by staff and volunteers, we headed for the starting gate and, at the stroke of7:00 AM, we began to pour through. We went in groups, each with a leader who guided us along the route, down this street and that.

People were lined up everywhere cheering us on. The energy was high and that made the walk for this day very exciting. My new sneakers didn’t think so, however, as we trudged on. My feet had started hurting and we were only halfway finished our walk for that day. I dearly wished I had broken in my new shoes during the practice walks, but I jollied myself into believing all would be okay.

See what thoughts can do? The sun was getting hotter and we made several pit stops for water and energy food. This being the month of April, and already quite warm in theMiamiarea, many of the women were having a hard time walking. By the end of the first day, some of them had been sent to the hospital because of heat exhaustion. When we stopped for the day, we still had to put up our own tents. This became a bit of a challenge because we were all exhausted from the walk… and the heat.  

The event planners had our sleeping areas spaced out in a field ahead of time, but first we had to fetch our tents from trucks that were parked quite a distance away. While we were resting before dinner we realized that we had only walked fifteen miles that day, not twenty. That meant we would need to walk more then twenty miles the next day. My feet were not looking forward to it one little bit. In addition, Jean’s daughter was not happy with the heat or the walk and she let us know she wanted to call her dad and go home. After much discussion we calmed her down and headed off to supper. There was a lot of conversation going on about the walk and, yes, a lot of unhappy and tired women but, being women, we all encouraged one another to keep going. The night was beautiful and the sky was clear so, after dinner, I just snuggled up, said my prayers and fell asleep.    

The next morning we were up at dawn getting ready to do it again. I did sleep well, so I felt pretty good that second morning. My feet were sore but not as bad as yesterday so I was pleased about that. Off we went walking toward theUniversityofMiami.

It’s a good thing we started early because the air was still cool enough for comfortable exercise. Later, beingMiami, it got very hot. The sun was beating down and we were all sweating something fierce. Even though there were many pit stops for food and water, it seemed like the day was never going to end. To complete the miles we were required to do took all day and part of the evening. We walked through side streets, long roads and, near the end, we tramped through a field filled with stones that dug through the bottoms of my shoes and into my already aching feet. It was really rough going. Tears were streaming down my face by the time we arrived at the university gates. Jean and I just sat down on the ground, right then and there.

This was the toughest of the two days so far and we still had to go put our tent up. We sat there and looked at the distance we had to walk, wondering why in the dickens they parked the trucks with our sleeping gear so far away. We didn’t like it, but we both got up moaning and limped toward the field to get started.

Once we finished setting everything up, Jean and I looked around. There was much chatter going on and we wanted to know what it was all about. Everyone was hurrying and lining up. “Oh! We have shower stalls for hot showers,” I exclaimed and instantly the energy changed. Jean and I perked up and became motivated to move faster so we could get in line for that hot shower before the water ran out. We did not have showers the day before, just sinks for a quick morning wash so this was a highlight of our very taxing day.

At dinner, we discussed the day’s activities. Once more the distance in miles was tallied and we discovered that we had all walked 26 miles that day. Twenty-six miles is the length of a marathon race and, for that matter, I could say a miracle too. How Jean, her daughter and I had accomplished that was beyond me. Twenty-six miles!

I realized then just how valuable Jean’s and my practice sessions were. On the other hand, there was no way a group of amateur walkers should have been made to trek twenty-six miles in a single day in the hot sun. It just should never have been. It really was poor planning on the part of theAvonstaff. 

Following our now familiar routine, after winding down, we once more headed back to our tents to sleep. It was another beautiful evening and I ‘thanked God’ that I had come so far without any major mishaps. Age was not a factor in this instance; rather it was courage and strength… and that was why I was so incredibly grateful.   

The next morning came fast and when I woke up I was somewhat sore. Not my legs as much as my feet. I swore that when this was over I would take the sneakers back and give Sports Authority a piece of my mind. I really don’t think they were good ‘walking shoes’ as they had advertised.

This was our last day and I was looking forward to its conclusion. Would I ever do this again, I wondered? I pulled myself together, joined Jean at breakfast and then the two of us headed for the starting gate for the third – and last – time. Everyone was really quiet when we started out and I’m sure it was because we were all pretty doggone proud of our accomplishment. And also, we were very, very weary.   

The direction this time was downtownMiamiwith the final leg of the walk taking place inMiami Beach. The sun was hot but tolerable because there was a breeze coming off the water as we walked along the boardwalk down at the beach. The cheers from the crowds were heartening and gave us the momentum we needed to pick up our speed as we headed into town.

The closing ceremony was being held in theAmericanAirlinesBuildingand as we were getting closer you could hear clapping hands and cheers everywhere. People were hugging us and shaking our hands. It was a beautiful moment. I can cry even now over that memory. It was a great challenge and defeat. I would say thank you toAvonfor this amazing event, but, at the same time I would have given them a piece of my mind for their inadequate planning. This event was their first three-day walk inFloridaand a big learning experience for all of us.

I did take my shoes back to the store and they apologized and gave me a new pair of walking shoes. I had to laugh because those sneakers that I returned walked a hefty sixty miles, just as I had.

The question I had asked myself after that grueling second day came back into my mind: would I ever do this again? I can say that I learned so much from so many during those three days. I know the money from our sponsors was used for a wonderful cause.Avonis still conducting walks for breast cancer and so are a few other organizations. It’s a great feeling to be supported by a team of dedicated volunteers and crew members, not to mention the camaraderie of 1,000 others walkers sharing the experience together.

It really is amazing to witness what can happen when a thousand individuals boldly conquer 60 miles together for such a great cause. Jean and I were proud to do that walk and the answer is ‘Yes’ – I would do it again.